In one of the most groan-inducing moments in recent NBA history, the Cleveland Cavaliers scored the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft on Tuesday, marking the second straight year and the third time in four years they will select first.
Beyond the grave disappointment of the highly coveted top selection going to a team that had its 2013-14 season implode, fortunes changed for a number of franchises at the lottery drawing.
Let's take a quick look at the 2014 NBA draft lottery's winners and losers.
Winners: Cleveland Cavaliers
Unlike in years past, the Cavaliers were not represented at the lottery by owner Dan Gilbert's son/lucky charm Nick. Nevertheless, freshly minted GM David Griffin emerged with the right ping pong ball combination despite a 1.7 percent chance of taking home the No. 1 pick. Cleveland jumped up from the No. 9 spot in the lottery order, and now the whole NBA world turns its eyes toward the Cavaliers again, wondering how
they will mess this up take advantage of such remarkably good fortune.
Cleveland's recent draft record surely played a role in former GM Chris Grant's midseason departure. Taking All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 pick in 2011 was a no-brainer, but someone had to pay for taking Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller, Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev with first-round picks in the past three drafts. Even those who remain high on Thompson, Waiters and Bennett would surely acknowledge that the Cavaliers' inability to climb into the playoffs following the departure of LeBron James has a lot to do with how they've handled their draft work, and particularly their high picks.
It's cruel and repetitive to do this, but Cleveland could have had Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams (or anyone else) in 2013 instead of Bennett, whose PER ranked second-to-last among qualified rookies last season. The previous year, Andre Drummond and Damian Lillard were available when they selected Waiters, who has reportedly clashed with Irving. In 2011, they selected Thompson instead of Jonas Valanciunas, Kawhi Leonard and Nikola Vucevic, among others.
So here they go again, this time with a class so strong at the top they presumably can't mess this one up. The Cavaliers will likely select from Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker, and their task is made easier because the small forward and center positions are areas of need, particularly if free-agent-to-be Luol Deng decides not to re-sign. The defining questions for Cleveland: Which player will work best in tandem with Irving and how many of their current players will need to be jettisoned to make room?
Losers: The rest of the NBA world
The draft lottery is supposed to be a celebration of potential and power-shifting developments and life-changing moments. Instead, this was as dreary as it gets. When an excited Griffin eagerly shook hands with Julius Erving, who was representing the Sixers, the basketball world outside of Cleveland identified with Dr. J's disappointment.
These guys, again? Really? The universe is really going to gift them the No. 1 pick after they:
— Shocked the world for no good reason with the Anthony Bennett pick
— Signed, suspended and dumped Andrew Bynum
— Fired Grant and coach Mike Brown
— Traded assets for Deng without a postseason appearance to show for it
— Created an environment where Irving, one of the biggest can't-miss stars of recent years, flat-lined rather than blossomed
— Failed, spectacularly, to live up to their own super-high, self-imposed expectations as reports of locker room turmoil surfaced.
I'm not going to shed too many tears for the Bucks or Sixers, who suffered through miserable seasons but at least retained the No. 2 and No. 3 picks. They're walking home with solid consolation prizes, and if the Cavaliers do something wacky again, they might very well wind up like the SuperSonics in 2007 with the best player in the draft falling into their laps.
The real disappointment, then, comes from the tantalizing possibilities that could have unfolded had one of the other lower-lottery teams made the jump up to the No. 1 pick. Imagine the Pelicans building their organization around an Anthony Davis/Andrew Wiggins duo. Imagine Stan Van Gundy jumping into life as the Pistons' executive/coach with a combination of Drummond and Jabari Parker. Imagine the Suns -- the league's darlings -- adding Wiggins to a mix that includes Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and so many other up-and-comers. Imagine the Timberwolves getting the blessing they need to keep Kevin Love, snagging a two-way center in Embiid who could develop into an excellent frontcourt partner. Imagine the Kings getting either Wiggins or Parker, thereby saving themselves from any more years of paying big money for Rudy Gay. Notice that I haven't even mentioned the Lakers or Celtics yet, two rebuilding teams that could use a jolt of franchise-altering star power more than anybody.
By now, hopefully the point is clear: Just about any scenario aside from the one that unfolded would have been preferable. There's no use in crying any more over the spilled milk. Instead, let's turn our attention to hoping that this doesn't happen again in 2015.
Winners: Charlotte Hornets
Tuesday night went perfectly for the Hornets, who officially changed their name from the Bobcats earlier in the day. There was only one scenario in which Charlotte, which surprisingly made the playoffs for just the second time since the Bobcats joined the NBA, would get a lottery pick: one of the six teams behind Detroit had to jump into one of the top three spots while the Pistons did not jump. Why? Because former Pistons president Joe Dumars included a protected first-round pick in a 2012 trade so that he could unload Ben Gordon's contract. The protection stopped at No. 8 this season, and the Pistons just so happened to be sitting eighth in the draft order.
Lo and behold, as soon as Cleveland jumped up and Detroit didn't, the Pistons' pick went poof. Even better, the Cavaliers were the only team to jump up, so the Hornets are selecting at No. 9, the very best return they could have hoped for this season. On top of that, Charlotte also holds the No. 24 pick, thanks to a 2011 trade with Portland. Jordan and GM Rich Cho now have plenty of promising options as they look to continue the progress they made last season.
Losers: Detroit Pistons
This goes without saying. What a kick in the pants for Van Gundy, who must completely overhaul a horrible, mish-mashed roster, make a decision on Greg Monroe and pray that someone will take either Brandon Jennings or Josh Smith off his hands (or both) without any immediate impact help. What an appropriately painful parting gift from Dumars, who should have been replaced years ago.
Winners: Philadelphia 76ers
One can only imagine the euphoria that would have ensued had the Sixers landed the No.1 pick just months after subjecting themselves and their fans to a brutal 27-game losing streak. Taking home the third pick isn't ideal, but picking fourth or fifth in a class where there are three consensus possibilities for the top spot would have been far worse.
Avoiding that worst-case backslide was big, but securing their second lottery pick was even bigger. Thanks to a 2013 trade involving Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia now holds New Orleans' first-round pick, which came in at No. 10. It's no great secret the Sixers needs players -- and cause for hope -- after gutting their roster last season, and now they hold two top-10 picks in a strong class. On top of that, 2013 lottery pick Nerlens Noel will debut next season, potentially putting Philadelphia in position to roll out a starting lineup composed of Thaddeus Young and four lottery picks from the 2013 and 2014 classes. Sounds a lot more fun than last season.
Losers: New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans' hopes for moving up were faint -- they had less than a four percent chance to move into the top-three -- but the possibilities were enticing. The clock is always ticking for a cornerstone player like Davis, even though he just turned 21. Pairing him with Wiggins, Parker or Embiid -- or trading the top-three pick to cash in for some real quality pieces -- could have sped up New Orleans' timeline considerably. Instead, it sits on the sidelines for this highly anticipated draft.
Winner: Adam Silver
The NBA's new commissioner is the cover boy for this week's Sports Illustrated, and Lee Jenkins' profile expertly delivers loads of information on Silver's personal back story while also hinting at just how difficult the Donald Sterling saga has made Silver's first few months on the job. As if he needed another reminder of Sterling's stench, Silver got it during his pre-lottery press conference, when six of the eight questions posed to him were about Sterling.
In handling those queries, Silver drew a nice contrast between NBA MVP Kevin Durant and Sterling.
"Your question makes me think of Kevin Durant's MVP speech," he said. "He said something like, 'Mom, we weren't supposed to be here. The deck was stacked against us.' I get choked up a little bit just remembering watching him give that speech, and I think Kevin Durant as our most valuable player embodies what this league is all about, and frankly Mr.Sterling doesn't."
Silver surely realizes he is facing an uphill battle keeping the nation's attention on the court -- not to mention the possibility of an extended legal battle over the future of the Clippers -- but he did well fighting the good fight on Tuesday.
Losers: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid
Of course they're not real losers: All three will soon be fabulously wealthy and all three have All-Star potential. They were going to come out of the lottery in a good spot, no matter what happened.
That said, none of the potential glamour opportunities -- the Lakers and Celtics, in particular -- materialized. There would be no lifelines. Instead, the trio will almost certainly be going to Cleveland, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, which were quite possibly the three most depressing organizations in the NBA last season. They will be greeted as potential saviors and forced to succeed in questionable surroundings that may or may not be able to help them reach their full potential. All three have the potential to change a franchise, which is good, because all three of these franchises badly need changing.
Winner: Mark Tatum
The NBA's new deputy commissioner, Mark Tatum, got his first taste of extended face time with a national audience on Tuesday. He made it through without any gaffes, which is all that counts.
Losers: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers' only path to relevance in the Western Conference in 2014-15 was to land a top-three pick and swing it in a trade for an established All-Star type player. That fast-track proposal didn't pan out, and now L.A. sits in the No. 7 spot, hoping point guard Dante Exum -- the name generating the most pre-lottery buzz around the team -- improbably falls to them. If Exum is out, and he very well could be given Orlando's need for a point guard, the Lakers will be forced to shift to Option C, whatever that is.
Winner: Mallory Edens
Mallory Edens, the 18-year-old daughter of new Bucks owner Wesley Edens, attracted a lot of social media attention during her brief appearance on stage representing the team. The Journal-Sentinel sets the scene, even getting Mallory's sister to admit, "She's definitely the more photogenic one." Let's not forget that, in addition to thousands of new Twitter followers, Edens also left with the No. 2 pick.
Losers: New York Knicks They don't have a coach, they don't yet know if Carmelo Anthony will re-sign, and they watched their first-round pick go to the Magic as payment in the 2011 deal that landed Anthony from the Nuggets. The good news is ... nope, nothing. New York also owes a 2014 second-round pick, a 2015 second-round pick and a possible total of four more picks in years after that. It will take years of Zen, prayer and good fortune to fix this mess.